With these words, Jesus invited Simon, a fisherman from Galilee, to perform an act of faith. Casting nets and hauling them in is an exhausting affair. Simon had been out on boats with his brother Andrew all night and caught nothing. Simon had already been generous with Jesus, whom he was meeting for the first time, taking a break from the tedious task of washing and cleaning the nets to allow Jesus to preach from his boat. The Gospel of Luke does not include any detail on the themes that Jesus included in his remarks, but they must have struck a chord with Simon, who responded with words that spoke to both his exhaustion and his faith. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
In our Ignatian context, we see many layers of meaning in this first exchange between Jesus and the one whom he would affectionately nickname ‘the Rock’ (Peter). We see that God always meets us where we are at, in the ordinariness of our everyday lives. Peter was also able to recognise God at work in Jesus. He was ready to find God in all things, even in the request of a stranger to interrupt the work he needed to complete after a night of disappointment before heading home to rest. Simon must also have been a man of earnest self-reflection. After attempting to haul in a catch so large that it began to tear the nets, Simon expressed his feelings of unworthiness in strong language “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
Jesus’ response continued the pattern established throughout the first books of the Bible; God calls those the world considers weak, those who believe themselves unworthy. Moses was a stutterer, living in exile after an act of violence in Egypt. David was the youngest of his brothers, a lowly shepherd. Jeremiah was dismissed because of his youth. The Gospels do not tell us why Simon considered himself both sinful and unworthy, but what is clear is that this was irrelevant to Jesus. He saw a capacity for greatness in Simon that would help him overcome the worst elements of his nature and to make room for the grace of God. So Jesus assures Simon with the words “Do not be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
Another significant connection to our Ignatian context is the detachment or indifference that Simon displayed when leaving his boats and the catch behind and immediately following Jesus. We know that Simon was married, since Jesus would later cure his mother-in-law. Tradition states that he had at least one child, a daughter. He ran a small fleet of boats and was quite wealthy, as his home was built the shortest possible distance from the village synagogue. To leave all he knew behind to follow a man he had only just met seems unwise at best and possibly heartlessly reckless. Yet, it was only this willingness to set aside all he had known to follow the call of Jesus that allowed Simon to participate in events that exceeded anything he could have imagined himself capable of doing.
Our 2023 theme will allow us to place special focus on discernment of vocations, resilience and a willingness to try again, even in the face of repeated failure and the importance of knowing both one’s strengths and weaknesses in the year ahead.